Advanced Criminal Law: Convicting the Innocent
Professor James R. Elkins College of Law
West Virginia University|Fall|2016|



Randall Dale Adams


"The Thin Blue Line"
[1:42:00 mins.] [Errol Morris, IFC Films] [Documentary Crime Films course website]


  Randall Adams, Adams v. Texas (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991)(with William Hoffer & Marilyn Mona Hoffer)

Assigned Reading

Ex parte Adams, 768 S.W.2d 281 (Tex. Crim App. 1989)
[on-line text]

The Case

Randall Dale Adams

Randall Dale Adams appealed his conviction for the murder of Robert Wood, the Dallas police office. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the verdict, without a single dissent.

Less than three days before Adams's scheduled execution on May 8, 1979, he received a stay of his execution by Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., acting on behalf of the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held, in an 8-1 opinion that the jury selection procedure in Adams trial violated Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 US 510 (1968). The case was remanded for further proceedings.

To avoid a new trial, state prosecutors appealed to the governor of Texas to commute Adams's sentence to life in prison. Adams's lawyers sought a new trial, notwithstanding the commutation and lost their appeal in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that affirmed the conviction.

David Harris finally admitted that he, not Randall Dale Adams, had killed Robert Wood. David Harris was executed on June 30, 2004 for the killing of a man named Mark Mays in September, 1985.

On December 2, 1988, Dallas District Court Judge Larry Baraka recommended to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that Adams be granted a new trial. Judge Baraka, less than two months later, on January 30, 1989, requested that the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles parole Adams but the Board refused. On March 1, 1989 the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled, unanimously, that Adams was entitled to a new trial. Three weeks later, he was released from prison, and on March 23, 1989, Dallas District Attorney John Vance dropped the charges against Adams.

Crime Film Documentaries: Course Website (James R. Elkins)